Some six months ago, I was told three words nobody wants to hear, preceded by two words that, pretty much, telegraphed what was coming. “I’m sorry, ” the doctor said. “You have cancer.”
For the record, I’m not writing this for sympathy. But there needs to be some context for what I’m about to write. What I’m about to write is a story about a roller coaster ride – and about the gamut of emotions one experiences as that ride streaks along the tracks from ridiculous heights to alarming depths, sometimes in an instant.
More than that, though, I’m about to write a story about perspective. It’s something we all need but rarely acquire sans an adventure. My adventure is really, mostly, a metaphor about life, and life is just as often a roller coaster as it is a merry-go-round. We all tend to long for the straightaways, but the ups and downs are what teach us character.
My lesson began, about a year ago, in a local urology office. During my annual physical, my primary care physician noted in her assessment of my blood work that my PSA number was high enough to merit sending me to a specialist to find out why. Most men of my age know what a high PSA number represents: There are probably some issues going on “down there,” specifically “down there” in the prostate. From November to April, I underwent some not-very-pleasant exams, swallowed a variety of supposedly therapeutic pills, experienced a plethora of scans and, eventually, had a biopsy.
Then I heard those five words.
Because of the nature of my disease, my urologist suggested surgery was the best treatment. I sought a second opinion, and that doctor said, “OK, you’re also not very handsome.” Actually, he echoed the assessment of the initial doctor. Likewise, a third expert in the ways of the prostate said he would recommend an operation. So I underwent an operation.
Post surgery, I discovered that, while everything associated with the procedure went well, I wasn’t a particularly quick healer. For every good day, there was a not-so-good day, pretty much for a month.
Throughout this ordeal I got to find out what I was made of. Unfortunately, I ascertained that I could be weak and frail and, even occasionally, desperate. But I also discovered that a lot of people cared for me, even in my weakness, frailty and desperation. Over time, I made a point to acknowledge that my plight was no worse – in fact, it was often better – than those of millions of other people who are on their own roller coaster rides, albeit often under different circumstances. I eventually even decided that going through this should be regarded as a blessing, because it made me take an honest assessment of what kind of person I am – and guided me to vow to amend the flaws I discovered.
And for that I’m grateful. November seems like a good month in which to write that.